Well that was interesting.
I was just dismissed.
Not as in ‘fired’. But completely and utterly dismissed by my employer.
As in ‘to refuse to accept or recognize; reject.’
As in out of hand– ‘without thinking about or discussing it.’
As I sat
fuming stewing ruminating about the conversation that had just played out around me (since I didn’t seem to be actually involved in the discussion in any real way- I was very much being talked at rather than spoken to) my recent thoughts about atheism and secularism kept resurfacing.
Not because I feel as though I am in any way dismissive about the beliefs of others (I am more than happy to engage in dialogue about where our opinions may differ and/or correspond, provided my partner in discourse is also prepared to listen as well as speak) but because the assumption of rejection out of hand and dismissiveness about traditional beliefs is one that often drives critics in their, well, criticism of those who decide not to believe in the existence of supernatural actors in the world.
Way back in the day, Xenophanes rejected the Greek gods as human projections and recorded his musings explicitly for the posterity of future generations. All this in the 6th century BCE.
He was a satirist (think Stephen Colbert 2500+ years ago) who took aim at the anthropomorphized pantheon of gods, the veneration of athleticism, and ‘popular’ writers like Homer and Hesiod. He was a social and religious critic way before such became the norm at media outlets like the Huffington Post.
His skepticism was ahead of its time and based on five key points about a singular god who is NOTHING AT ALL like humanity. Instead, Xenophanes believed in a god that:
- is beyond human morality
- does not resemble humanity- in physical form- in ANY way
- cannot die or be born
- is not part of any divine hierarchy
- does not intervene in any way in human affairs.
Interestingly, some early Christian apologists (Clement of Alexandria for one) actually appreciated a lot of what Xenophanes had to say. His theology went against the traditional polytheism of the Greeks (and the Romans and the Egyptians) and seemed to jibe with at least some of what the early Christians were saying about their god.
Except for the parts about not looking like people, not being able to die or be born, and the whole thing about total lack of intervention in human affairs.
(Clement was pretty good at picking and choosing among the syncretic beliefs that surrounded him in the shaping of his own theology- and, since he was a little tiny bit gnostic at times, it’s not hard to see why Xenophanes’ concept of the supreme, unknown and unknowable god was appealing to his Alexandrian sensibilities.)
Xenophanes lived a long, well-travelled life, spreading his ideas and engaging in dialectics, and influencing later philosophers and theologians. He is generally viewed, in the Western philosophy of religion, as one of the first monotheists, although his writings speak of his concept of god as being ‘supreme among gods and men’, suggesting that he hadn’t given up on the idea of multiple deities all that completely.
My thoughts, since the end of my afternoon meeting have been circling back to this idea of dismissal vs. discourse and are reinforcing- if any more such reinforcement was the least bit required- that I am not, currently, where I should be.
I am doing all that I can to remedy this state, and while the going has been slow (to massively understate the reality) I have to hold on to the fact that I am moving in the right direction.
This song has been running loops in my brain for the last few hours.
(I realize that I keep coming back to the Eagles lately. What can I say? They are songwriters for all seasons/situations)
‘So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains and we never even know we have the key,’
My encounter today has reinforced the necessity of finding my particular key, and continuing to surround myself- where- and whenever possible- with those who are looking to engage in dialogue and dialectic without resorting to dismissiveness and out of hand rejection.
There remain those, like Xenophanes, who demonstrate the ability to ‘look up in the sky’ and manage to ‘see the light’ as well.
That’s a ‘victory song’ worth remembering and holding onto.